Tapering: science and practice: avoid overtraining and enhance athletic performance by using basic tapering principles

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Date: Sept. 2005
From: IDEA Fitness Journal(Vol. 2, Issue 8)
Publisher: IDEA Health & Fitness
Document Type: Cover story
Length: 3,710 words

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Have you or your clients ever experienced decreased exercise performance; fatigue and muscle soreness; elevated heart rate at rest or during exercise; or unintentional loss of body weight? Collectively, these may be warning signs of overtraining--and subsequent detraining if allowed to continue. It is often difficult to clearly define an individual as "over-trained," because many other factors (medications, disease, stress, etc.) can contribute to the presence of these signs and symptoms. However, one consistent marker for overtraining seems to be a drop in exercise performance during a training period. What is the best strategy to minimize this and other problems that result from overtraining? Research points to tapering--the significant reduction of a client's training load--as one good solution (Powers & Howley 2001).

What Is Overtraining?

Overtraining may be more of a problem than undertraining, for many reasons. Overtraining may result in injury or suppress an athlete's immune response. It may also result in psychological staleness, which can be identified as a lack of enthusiasm for exercise training by the athlete or client. General signs and symptoms of overtraining are (1) elevated heart rate and blood lactate levels at rest and during exercise; (2) weight loss due to a reduction in appetite; (3) chronic fatigue; (4) psychological staleness; (5) multiple colds or sore throats; and/or (6) the most prevalent red flag: a decrease in exercise performance. An overtrained client might experience one or all of these markers. It is critical for trainers and coaches to recognize the signs and symptoms of overtraining and respond with a tapering strategy when problems arise (Powers & Howley 2001).


Tapering is defined as a short-term reduction in training load during a period leading up to a competitive event. This strategy has become very popular; it is common to incorporate a tapering period over several days before a major competition (Shepley et al. 1992). A common misconception about tapering is that to reduce training intensity or volume immediately before a competition may decrease exercise performance through detraining. This is clearly not the case. Coaches, trainers and athletes who make a concerted effort to taper after a period of high-intensity and/or high-volume training may benefit through performance enhancement in both strength and endurance events (Powers & Howley 2001).

In addition to this strategy, many athletes may elect to taper after a competitive season to promote recovery from the psychological and physiological stresses associated with in-season competition or intense training (Houmard et al. 1989).

If a tapering period is not administered, overtraining may occur in a competitive athlete. Knowing both your client and the scientific line between tapering and detraining is crucial. Too much of a good thing like tapering is just that: too much! It has been observed that after a reduction in training, athletes can begin to show symptoms of detraining within 14-21 days (Houmard et al. 1989), so plan your athlete's tapering period accordingly.

What Does Tapering Entail?

Tapering can elicit improvements in both physiological and exercise performance factors. A tapering period can increase...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A135841162